If you’re a GNOME user I expect you’re more than familiar with the panels that come as standard with your desktop; if you use openSUSE you’re probably also familiar with the slab menu that Novell have developed. There are, however, several other applications out there that can extend and beautify your Gnome panels.
“Gimmie is a unique desktop organizer for Linux. It’s designed to allow easy interaction with all the applications, contacts, documents and other things you use every day."
It can be run as either a standalone program, or as an applet integrated into an existing panel; during my time experimenting with it I used it integrated with the top panel on my desktop, and tried to use it whenever I could. The applet is divided into four main tabs: Linux, Programs, Library and People.
I think the Linux tab is best described as a combination between the Places and System menu most GNOME users are more accustomed to, with several cool additions. For instance, the Recently Used section doesn’t just include documents, but applications as well; also included in this section is the ability to specify what time frame you wish it to examine, ranging from the last 6 months to the previous day. This tab also divides some of the functionality found in the Places menu into clearly defined and well labeled sections; while this makes interpretation easier for new users, it does increase the number of clicks to achieve some tasks, which is a bit wearing for more experienced users.
I really liked the Programs tab: it combines the functionality of the Applications menu with the Deskbar Applet. When you launch the tab the cursor is immediately placed in a search box, from where you can begin typing either the name of a program, its function, or some other related keyword and have it display relevant results that are updated as you type. What I like about this more than the Deskbar applet is that it is less cluttered, as only application results are displayed; not to mention that the ability to graphically browse applications is also retained.
The final two tabs, Library and People were lost on me. Their functionality seemed like it was just a duplicate of existing functionality: most of the Library’s functions were available in other parts of Gimmie, while People’s functionality was essentially a trimmed down Pidgin; I can see the appeal of the trimmed down nature of this, but when Pidgin is running in the system tray right next to it, I don’t see any real benefit.
“While Bigboard will likely replace parts of the top/bottom panel elements of the current desktop, it’s designed to be an online and connected system, not just a launcher replacement."
If you use Mugshot, you’ll want to checkout Bigboard: it doesn’t have as extensive functionality as Gimmie yet, but it is being designed from the ground up to integrate well with your favorite online services through Mugshot.
Some of the ideas floating around include being able to launch Google Docs as you would any other application and better integration of presence information about friends both over IM networks and on local networks (as well as services available over the local network).
Currently Bigboard has integration with Flickr and will display the latest photos from your friends; integration with Mugshot’s application database providing a very effective recently used applications “stack" that is incredibly easy to access (it’s sitting right on your desktop!); finally integration with the Deskbar Applet, providing all of its functionality as well.
Avant-Window-Navigator is brilliant and is the only one of these three applications that is always running on my system, having replaced my bottom Gnome panel.
It has, essentially, the same functionality as the Mac OS X dock: you can drag and drop your favourite applications to it where they become quickly accessible launchers, saving you clicks and time spent hunting through menus. AWN goes beyond just launching applications, as the name might suggest, and is also a great way to browse through your open windows. Once an application is launched, the fact it is now a running task is indicated by a discrete arrow underneath the icon, which, when clicked, will change focus and control maximise/minimise; AWN will also add icons for running applications which aren’t already launchers.
It is also beautiful—depending on how you feel about Mac look-a-likes. The downside of this is that it will only run in a composited environment (i.e. you need AIGLX + Compiz or a similar combination) and so is not available to everyone.
AWN’s greatest strength, however, is its customisability: it is very easy to control the dock’s appearance, including controls for everything from rounded corners to transparency and colours. For some of the settings however, you will have to step into the Gnome Configuration Editor; not a huge problem for a young application, but it will be nice to see more of these moving into the main configuration dialogues.
Be sure to keep an eye on future development, with support for applets having been added recently; there is currently a trash, systray and desktop pager applet available, with more being developed by the community that has grown up around AWN.
As things stand, I’d suggest that Gimmie has the greatest feature set, and doesn’t do a bad job executing it either; Bigboard has the loftiest goals, and perhaps the longest journey ahead of it; while AWN has the smallest feature set, and does a great job executing these core functions. All three, however, are great to experiment with, and can introduce you to new ways of working with your GNOME desktop.